The all-new Toyota Prius has convincingly won the prestigious Japan Car of the Year trophy in Tokyo.
Entering the awards ceremony as the favourite to win, the sleekly-styled Prius polled a massive 360 votes. The BMW X1 finished in second place with 150 votes to take the Import Car of the Year trophy, with the Honda ZR-V crossover came in third with 100 votes.
In the first round of voting in early November, jurors selected the “10 Best” cars for 2023 which included the Toyota Prius, Toyota Alphard, Nissan Serena, Honda ZR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, Mitsubishi Delica Mini, Abarth 500e, BMW X1, Maserati Grecale and Volkswagen ID.4.
According to Prius chief engineer Satoki Oya, the car’s reinvention was a case of extremes when former CEO Akio Toyoda recommended that the Prius, a game-changing petrol-hybrid first introduced in 1997, had run its course and should be retired and relegated to taxi status.
But product planners and engineers, believing the Prius’s fate could be turned around, totally redesigned the exterior and rethought the powertrain, making the hybrid pioneer the most stylish it’s ever been with significantly increased performance and better fuel economy.
In the special awards categories, the 660cc Mitsubishi Delica Mini kei-car won the Design Car of the Year trophy, while the Nissan Serena took home the Technology Car of the Year award for its new e-Power system employing a 3-cylinder 1.4-litre hybrid and Pro-Pilot 2.0 driver assist system which allows hands-off driving on highways.
The Vatican has teamed up with Volkswagen to replace the city state’s entire car fleet with electric vehicles by 2030.
At the beginning of 2024, VW will deliver some 40 fully electric models from its ID family, ranging from the ID.3 to the ID.4 and ID.5.
The vehicles are part of the decarbonisation strategy of the world’s smallest state, aiming to make the fleet climate-neutral by 2030.
Imelda Labbé, Member of the Board of Management for Sales, Marketing and After-Sales at Volkswagen Passenger Cars, and Dr Christian Dahlheim, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Financial Services AG, personally handed over the first two EVs to the Vatican – a pair of ID.3 Pro Performance 2 models.
Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who’s worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.
We road test the distinctive Nissan Ariya mid-sized electric SUV…
It’s taken Nissan more than 10 years to follow-up the game-changing Leaf with a brand new EV model. So, is the Ariya as good as it looks?
Let’s start by going back to basics. The Ariya (we think it’s pronounced ‘Arr-Ee-Yah’) is a mid-sized five-door SUV, so its rivals include the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, Skoda Enyaq, Volkswagen ID.4 and Tesla Model Y.
First impressions count and two things stand out. Its futuristic looks are like nothing else on the road, while its plush interior is a real step-up for Nissan.
There’s a choice of two battery sizes- a standard 63kWh unit or the ‘extended range’ 87kWh, which Nissan claims can travel 250 miles and 329 miles respectively from a full charge.
Starting at £46,145, entry-level models use a single electric motor to power the front wheels, producing 214bhp (63kWh) and 239bhp (87kWh).
All-wheel drive versions (marketed as ‘e-4ORCE’) get the larger 87kWh battery and an extra electric motor, delivering a total of 302bhp. However, range takes a hit, resulting in a claimed 285 miles.
The front-wheel drive 63kWh is capable of a 0-62mph sprint in 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 100mph, while the all-wheel-drive 87kWh has a 5.7-second 0-62mph time and can go on to 124mph.
Standard equipment is generous and there are just two trim levels to choose from – Advance and Evolve.
Entry-level Advance is fitted with full LED lighting, a heated windscreen, climate control, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, a navigation system, 360-degree cameras and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Evolve adds a panoramic sunroof, a video-based rear-view mirror, ventilated seats, heated rear seats and a Bose sound system, among other features.
The extensive list of safety and driver assistance aids standard on all grades includes Intelligent Driver Alertness, Lane Keep Assist, Traffic Jam Pilot, Blind Spot Intervention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Full Auto Park and a 360-degree Around View Monitor. Extra goodies on the Evolve spec include Pro-Pilot Park and a Head-up Display.
The Ariya can be charged at speeds of up to 130kW (slower than some rivals such as the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5), meaning you can top up from 10-80% in around 30 minutes, while an overnight charge from a 7.4kW wallbox will take 10 hours.
Our 63kWh Advance test car looked stunning in Akatsuki Copper with a pearl-black roof. Somewhere between a traditional and coupe-styled SUV, it’s no shrinking violet and is on the tall side.
Up front, the large closed-off grille is flanked by sharp LED daytime running lights and headlights, while the swooping roofline leads to a full-width LED light bar at the rear of the car.
Inside, it’s smart and minimalist. Stylish wood-grained trim spans the width of the dashboard and it has a premium feel.
Touch-sensitive controls with haptic feedback are hidden within the trim, illuminating when the car is switched on. More of these ‘buttons’ are conveniently placed on the sliding centre armrest, which can be moved via the press of a button to provide additional foot space in the front or the rear.
The Ariya’s infotainment system consists of two 12.3-inch screens, mounted side-by-side – a driver’s digital instrument cluster, plus a main infotainment interface complete with sat nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
The cabin is spacious and light with plenty of room in the back for rear passengers to travel in comfort.
Single motor models get a decent 466-litre boot capacity (1,348 litres with the back seats down), reducing to 408 litres if all-wheel drive is chosen.
The overwhelming sensation on the road is of a relaxing driving experience. Not only is it comfortable and well insulted inside the cabin, it’s been well put together and the delivery of all that instant torque is smooth and quiet.
There are three driving modes (Eco, Sport and Normal), though we found the latter will do just fine. As you’d expect from Nissan, there’s also an e-pedal option, which winds up the regenerative braking and can bring the car to a halt simply by lifting off the accelerator.
It feels planted at high speed and on flowing country roads, but try to hustle in more challenging corners and its weight and height become more obvious. There’s a bit of body lean and 2.2 tonnes to slow down, which tends to blunt the driving engagement.
That said, grip levels are good, though as we found with our front-wheel drive test car, it is possible to spin the front wheels when setting off on loose surfaces and in the wet if you’re too heavy on the accelerator.
Otherwise, the steering feels nicely judged, and the commanding driving position offers good visibility (plus there’s a rear wiper, unlike some rivals!).
We haven’t tried the 87kWh all-wheel drive e-4ORCE model yet, but we suspect the increased grip, power and range (we’d estimate the real-world range in our 63kWh test car is closer to 200 miles) might be worth the extra expense.
Verdict: Safe, spacious and surprisingly classy, the Nissan Ariya family SUV boasts serious kerb appeal. Easy to drive and comfortable, it’s at its best cruising along stylishly and smoothly.
It’s fair to say that Toyota is a little late to the EV party. Despite the fact that it was a hybrid technology pioneer 25 years ago with the Prius, it’s taken until 2022 for the Japanese giant to launch its first pure electric car in Europe.
So, I guess the big question is – has it been worth the wait? Before I attempt to answer that, let’s deal with the baby elephant in the room – how did it end up with a name like the bZ4X?
Well, to put it simply, it’s the first model in Toyota’s “Beyond Zero” family of zero emission battery electric vehicles, while the ‘4’ references the size of the car (mid-sized) and ‘X’ denotes it’s a 4×4 crossover/SUV.
Slightly longer, lower and wider than a RAV4, the bZ4X has been co-developed with Subaru (its version is called the Solterra) and it’s available with front or four-wheel drive.
Your choice of drive will have an impact on your car’s performance and range. The FWD version (201bhp) offers up to 317 miles of range and a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, while the 4×4 option (215bhp) has a lower range of about 286 miles, but is quicker off the mark (6.9 seconds).
Priced from £41,000, Toyota’s is going big on peace of mind, also offering the bZ4X via an intriguing new, all-inclusive monthly leasing scheme that covers the vehicle, maintenance, wall box charger and access to connected services.
Meanwhile, the battery is supported by an optional extended care programme for owners, guaranteeing battery capacity of 70% after 10 years or 1,000,000km (620,000 miles) driven.
The bZ4X also benefits from Toyota’s standard Relax warranty which covers your vehicle for 10 years (up to 100,000 miles), provided your car is serviced by a Toyota dealer.
Talking of the battery, the bZ4X’s 71.4kWh pack can be charged from 0-80% in around 30 minutes using a rapid 150kWh charger.
Four trims are offered, including entry-level ‘Pure’, which comes with goodies such as 18-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera and smart entry.
‘Motion’ models look sportier thanks to big 20-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows and roof spoiler, while kit includes heated seats, wireless phone charging and a panoramic glass roof.
‘Vision’ is next up with standard equipment that includes heated and cooled front seats, a digital key that means you can open and start the car with your phone and synthetic leather upholstery.
We tested the top-of-the range Premier Edition model which comes with four-wheel drive as standard, plus a nine-speaker JBL sound system, and is priced from £51,550.
At first glance, the bZ4X looks like a sleeker, more futuristic RAV4. Get up closer and the design is more complex with an accent on aerodynamics in order to reduce drag and maximise range.
Inside, there’s a real feeling of space, light and visibility. Up front there’s a new driver-focused set-up with a low steering wheel and a 7.0-inch digital display which sits directly in the driver’s forward eyeline. Not quite as radical as Peugeot’s i-Cockpit, but still a change which works surprisingly well once you get used to it.
Praise too for the 12.3-inch touchscreen in the centre console. Slick with crisp graphics, thankfully Toyota hasn’t completely forsaken traditional buttons, so there’s less need to take your eyes off the road while you swipe through menus to access key functions.
It’s just a shame that there were some hard plastics used high up in the cabin, while the driver’s instrument binnacle structure is a fairly flimsy affair.
On the plus side, there’s stacks of space in the back for passengers, while the boot has a useful 452-litre luggage capacity, though sadly there’s no space for a frunk in the “engine bay” to store your cables.
The first thing you notice on the road is the smooth ride and the refinement inside the cabin.
Just like all EVs, there’s plenty of instant torque available. However, the acceleration is perfectly pitched if you floor it, rather than gut-wrenching like some rivals.
There’s a little body roll on more challenging corners, but then the bZ4X is more comfortable cruiser than performance SUV. No complaints about grip and traction either.
It’s easy to drive and Toyota has tried to make it as simple as possible with its automatic brake regeneration (a system that recharges the battery by harvesting power otherwise wasted during deceleration).
Maybe I’m the odd one out, but I prefer the ability to adjust regen settings manually (as is more often the case). Weirdly, the Subaru Solterra includes just such a feature.
Our test car came equipped with the X-Mode four-wheel drive system which has settings for snow/mud; deep snow and mud and Grip Control for tougher off-road driving (below 6mph), so it should be able to cope on those few days of the year when extreme weather makes the headlines.
We went through various exercises to test its off-road capability and it passed with flying colours. Few bZ4X owners will ever stretch it to its limits, but there’s a hill-descent control, low-speed crawl control and it can wade through a depth of 500mm.
Any more gripes? Well yes, just a couple. There’s no glovebox and far more annoyingly, no rear wiper (it’s been sacrificed on the altar of aerodynamic efficiency).
Oh, and in answer to the question I posed way back at the beginning of this article. Yes, the bZ4X has been worth the wait.
Rivals include everything from the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, Skoda Enyaq iV and Audi Q4 e-tron to the Volkswagen ID.4,Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E.
Verdict: The all-new Toyota bZ4X is a welcome addition to the long-range electric SUV scene – smooth, spacious and surprisingly capable, it’s the peace of mind choice.
Is VW’s new electric car right for your family? We find out…
Futuristically designed inside and out, the ID.4 is Volkswagen’s first 100% electric SUV.
Winner of the prestigious World Car of the Year 2021 award, this distinctive family-sized EV features a small driver’s digital instrument cluster and a larger infotainment screen mounted on the centre console (just like its smaller sibling, the ID.3 hatchback).
Priced from £34,995 and available with two sizes of battery (52kW and 77kW), it has a range of between 211-317 miles and achieved a maximum five-star Euro NCAP score, making it one of the safest new cars on the road.
Fitted with Isofix points in the front passenger seat, as well as the rear, standard safety and driver assistance systems include AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking), lane assist, adaptive cruise control and driver fatigue detection.
It also features a centre-mounted airbag which protects the driver and front passenger from hard mutual contact in the event of a side crash.
In terms of size, the ID.4 is about the same size as a Tiguan, but bigger inside, so it’s substantial with plenty of room for the family.
There’s also lots of space for luggage – 543 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1,575 litres with all the back seats flipped.
We tested the ID.4 with the biggest battery and the longest range (starting at around £46,000). It’s mid-range and is billed as the ‘Family’ version. There’s also the entry-level Life, followed by Style, (Family), Max, GTX and GTX Max.
Despite feeling big on the road and weighing more than two tonnes, it’s swift with a 0-62mph sprint time of 8.5 seconds. And, as ever with an electric vehicle (EV), there’s instant oomph and zero emissions.
It’s also easy to drive with a commanding view of the road. The interior design is cool, comfortable, well put together and minimalist, though the infotainment screen won’t appeal to everyone because it’s all about tapping and swiping – and it’s not the most responsive system out there.
It would be an exaggeration to call this version of the ID.4 fun to drive, but all EVs have their moments (especially at traffic lights and overtaking) and it’s a joy to cruise along silently.
Our test car was not all-wheel drive, but still seemed to have plenty of traction and grip. Composed, unless really pushed in more challenging corners, it’s more agile than you might think for a big car.
However, if you want all-wheel drive and more tuned driving dynamics, then you’ll have to opt for one of the more sporty range-stoppers.
As far as practicality goes, if you have a home wallpod, it will fully charge overnight (11 hours). If you can find a 125kW rapid charger, it will take just 38 minutes to reach 80% full charge, while a real-world range of 250 miles is very realistic.
Of course, the ID.4 will also charge on the move via regenerative braking (which returns most of the energy from braking and coasting back into the battery while you’re driving).
Electric SUV rivals include the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia e-Niro, Audi Q4 e-tron, Volvo XC40 Recharge, Skoda Enyaq and Ford Mustang Mach-e.
Verdict: If you’re looking for a big SUV that’s kind to the planet, stands out from the crowd and boasts serious badge appeal, then the practical Volkswagen ID.4 could be right up your street. In short, it’s the kind of sensible car you buy with your head, not your heart. Price: from £34,995 – £56,380 (including the Government Plug-in Car Grant)